Thursday, July 26, 2012

Trans-Pacific handshake, or Chinese finger trap?

Living in South Korea for three years, I personally experienced Chinese power. This nation, people, and culture have always shown a huge influence on their neighbours, even when not exerting direct political control. Although Korea has her own unique culture, one sees Chinese influences everywhere, from the use of Chinese writing and vocabulary, to customs of family relationships and respect, to foods. We found the same on our visit to Japan, and I understand that Mongolia, Vietnam and the rest of Indochina, and even Indonesia and Malaysia likewise have significant Chinese influences. With such a huge population and powerful economy, this kind of cultural spillover is inevitable.
But in the modern globalized economy, one no longer needs to be China’s neighbour to fall under her influence. As our energy and resources flow more swiftly across the Pacific, and our stores fill their shelves with Chinese-made products, we move closer to China as surely as if the ocean itself were contracting. But is this a handshake, or a Chinese finger trap?
When Stephen Harper first led his party in Parliament, he vocally criticized China’s human rights record, and rightly so. This past weekend a human rights conference in Toronto was reminded by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Green Party leader Elizabeth May May of the continuing religious persecution in China, targeting underground Christians, Muslim Uyghurs, and Falun Gong. Yet under the Harper Government, not only has trade integration with China continued, it has accelerated. Even Barrie is getting in on the act with trade missions.
The underlying philosophy long used to justify this increased trade is that Canadian values will rub off on the Chinese through close contact. I am reminded of the proverb of the sweet cucumber in the vinegar barrel, thinking the barrel will be sweetened; instead, the cucumber gets pickled.
Human rights abuses are endemic in China, and as the supposedly freeing information age marches on, new technologies are used to spy on and isolate dissent, as even giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter bend to Chinese internet restrictions. China’s environmental degradation is legendary, as growth-at-all-costs prevails over traditional Chinese caution.
In fact, not only have Canadian values gained little traction in China, we are now seeing the Chinese approach coming to Canada. As delays to the Keystone XL pipeline turn tar sands plans toward Asia, legislation like omnibus Bill C-38 is passed to undermine or gut any laws that could stop or even delay pipeline construction. Signal sent and received; China has responded with their largest-ever foreign takeover bid, $15 billion for Nexen, following over $10 billion of other recent Canadian energy acquisitions.
Our government has already thrown our environmental laws under the bus to entice Chinese investment, and leaned on sincere charities and civic groups trying to warn us of the consequences. What will they pickle next, our labour or human rights standards?
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Growing Chinese influence inevitable"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada.

1 comment:

  1. A good commentary Erich. Trade with China is growing and like your apt example of a finger trap I hope the warning is effective.
    No one country should be too dependent on another.Canada is a good example.
    I would like to see at least some of this bitumen refined in Canada. That is the expensive route. When it comes to the environment this may be a non starter. China wants our oil. Sending them the raw material continues us along the same mold being just a raw materials supplier. We can do better.